The Lions’ potential trade-down options at the top of this month’s NFL draft took another hit Monday, as one more quarterback-needy team managed to strike a deal elsewhere.
This time it was Carolina sending a package of three picks — second- and fourth-round selections in 2022 along with a 2021 sixth-rounder — to the New York Jets for quarterback Sam Darnold.
That move all but eliminates the possibility the Panthers would trade up for a quarterback, something ESPN analyst Todd McShay had projected in his latest mock draft with Carolina sending a third-round choice to Detroit to move up from No. 8 to No. 7, where he had the Panthers drafting North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
But the Darnold trade also makes it less likely another team will feel compelled to make the Lions an offer they can’t refuse in order to leapfrog Carolina and snag one of the handful of quarterbacks projected to go early in this year’s draft.
So if that means the Lions are staying put, which way will they turn with the seventh pick?
Most mock drafts have the Lions targeting one the top pass-catchers in this year’s class, a group that includes LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, as well as Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. That certainly would fill a need for the Lions, who let their top three receivers from last year walk in free agency this offseason.
But considering the depth of talent in this draft at that position, perhaps it will lead Detroit’s new general manager, Brad Holmes, to go in another direction at No. 7. Maybe even grabbing the top-rated offensive tackle — either Oregon’s Penei Sewell or Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater — and waiting to draft a receiver on Day 2.
“Yeah, I mean, that makes sense,” McShay said Monday, a few hours before news of the Darnold trade broke. “I don’t disagree with it. But I think the offensive tackle class is pretty strong, too. So you could make the argument in both cases.”
“With Sewell, he definitely could go earlier. But as you go through these mock drafts, you’re plugging in the quarterbacks early and then the pass catchers. I think Detroit has a bigger need at the wide receiver spot.”
McShay said he certainly could see a scenario where the Lions went with a tackle in the first round and then drafted a receiver early in the second. He mentioned Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Louisville’s Tutu Atwell and LSU’s Terrace Marshall as possibilities if Detroit went that route.
McShay also said he’d have no argument with the Lions drafting Sewell, whom Oregon coach Mario Cristobal called a “generational player” who “can change an entire franchise.” The 6-foot-6, 330-pounder has been pegged as a first-round talent ever since a dominant sophomore season in 2019 that saw him earn unanimous All-America honors at the Outland Trophy. Only problem is, that’s also the last time he played in a game, because Sewell was one of several Oregon players to opt out of playing in last year’s abbreviated Pac-12 schedule.
“But Sewell is such a good player,” McShay said. “Again, we haven’t seen him play in over a year. But he’s 330 pounds, he’s long, he’s athletic. He’s not as quick and sudden as Slater. But he’s so hard to get around because he’s so long and big. And once he latches on to you, it’s over. So, I think he’s going to be the first offensive tackle off the board.”
That could happen as early as No. 4 overall to Atlanta, or more likely to Cincinnati at No. 5 as the Bengals look to solidify an offensive line in front of last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow. There are dots that are easy to connect there, too. After opting out, Sewell started working with former Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander to prepare for the draft. Current Bengals line coach Frank Pollack also ran him through position drills Friday at Oregon’s pro day.
Still, if the Bengals pass on Sewell and he gets past Miami at No. 6 — the Dolphins may be inclined to add a receiver — the Lions might jump at the chance to round out their offensive line with another first-round talent. And listening to Sewell talk Monday, it wasn’t hard to imagine Lions coach Dan Campbell’s ears were ringing.
“l like to be physical,” he said. “I like to get under your chin. I like to show I come off the ball every single play with violent intentions.”
And for those who doubt he’s the top tackle in this class?
“Just go put on the tape,” Sewell added. “Everybody just go ahead and watch what I do. Nobody can do what I do, in this draft. I bring something totally different to the table. I think people know that. But people will say whatever they want to say, and all I have to say is put on the tape and watch me work.”